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General William Henry Harrison Beadle


This file contains the biography of W. H. H. Beadle from "Who's Who in South Dakota" by O. W. Coursey (1913) 

SOUTH DAKOTA'S "GRAND OLD MAN."

General William Henry Harrison Beadle was born in the rugged new west, in a forest region where great oaks, walnut and poplars grew, near the Wabash river, the route for nearly all the commerce of the early days; when the houses were mostly of logs and all the life around him was active and vigorous; drank from the cool, clear springs with a limestone element in them to develop bones and stature, and used to labor to the extent of his physical powers; and, observing the ambitious efforts of his enterprising father and mother, his life was shaped for execution and success. Such were the environments and stimulating conditions that life in boyhood and manhood gave to Dr. Wm. H. H. Beadle, and prepared him for his great service to the territory of Dakota and the state of South Dakota.

His father, James Ward Beadle, was born in Kentucky, fifteen miles above Louisville, near the Ohio river, of ancestry that had landed very early at Salem, Massachusetts, in colonial days, and passed in successive generations through Connecticut, Pennsylvania and the Shenandoah valley in Virginia, to Kentucky. It was a series of struggles, trials and hard labor. His mother, Elizabeth Bright, was born in St. Mary's county, Maryland, near the lower Potomac, and of the second generation after her grandfather, James Bright, had sailed from near Aberdeen, Scotland, for America. He was A brau Scot as was John Bright, her father. The family was given to the sea, and John Bright continued it on the Chesapeake, Potomac and James, till the destructive effect of the war of 1812-15 in all that region forced them to seek a new home in Kentucky. Traveling in 1816 in wagons, on foot and on horseback, she was ferried across the Potomac by Harper, the orignal ferryman, who gave name to the later historic village, Harper's Ferry.

The Beadles and Brights became near neighbors, and there General Beadle's parents were married, after the fathers had made two or three trips with flatboats, loaded with produce, to New Orleans. They moved to western Indiana, and the father who was a master hand with the broadaxe, built with his own hands a common but comfortable hewed log house near the northwest corner of Parke county, and in that William was born January 1, 1838, the fourth child and first son of the family. The woods were close about the home, and the deer, wild turkeys, squirrels and pheasants were abundant in them. The life was simple, the food plain but good, and the clothing was spun, woven and made by his mother.

When nearly twenty years old he left home for education in the University of Michigan. He went from another farm in that county and wore trousers and vest of mixed blue jeans made also by his mother.

His life was that if a farmer boy, working with axe and hoe and plow. When too young to handle a heavy plow, he walked beside the oxen with whip in hand, quickening their pace, or rode and guided the big gray horse, while an older boy who had been hired held the plow. He early learned to trap, to hunt and to fish, and carried home many a fine string of black ass and other fish from the Wabash and its confluents. The boy went barefoot to school in the log school house under a master who conducted a subscription school. And he learned to read and read many good books, beginning with Robinson Crusoe and the Peter Parley stories of America, Europe and Asia. While his mother was spinning with the big wheel he sat close by working out the first story mentioned, and when he came upon a new and difficult word his mother stopped and pronounced it and gave its meaning. He read in the evening before the log fire, and when neighbors came in he listened to the stories of Kentucky, Virginia and Maryland; how his mother saw the British army and fleet on its way to attack Baltimore when his father was a soldier in the Maryland militia. The father had stories told him by Kentucky riflemen who went to New Orleans and helped Jackson to defeat General Packenham and his veteran soldiers. One old soldier told of his Niagara campaign under Scott.

But nothing compared with the flatboat and the trip made to New Orleans and the return on the steamboat. He saw the boats built, loaded and float away on the spring rise of the Wabash, with his father standing as captain on the deck. He returned late in May, wearing a spring suit and a Panama hat, always bringing some new books for the children to reed. There were only classic books in the good old days. He went to church in plain clothes and walked two or three miles to a half-Quaker Sunday School. Later the township in which he then lived had a real public library and every Saturday evening he got a new book from it, reading Pope's translation of Homer, Scott's Ivanhoe, and the Conquest of Mexico, and of Peru, and many more, yes, even many of Burn's poems, when but twelve or thirteen years
old.

LOOKED INTO THE FUTURE

As previously stated, General Beadle came into life as a providential act that he might have a full measure of complete years, on the first day of January. Seventy-four full rounded years have already been checked off to him by the ringer of time, but yet his great soul "still lives, forever young," while be continues to write, to lecture and to develop. Men die from inactivity; that is, more of them rust out than wear out."  Hard study keeps them young, because it keeps them growing. 'Twas true of Gladstone and of Bryant, 'tis true of Joe Cannon and of Beadle.

But in following this line of research and progress, in his advanced years, the General is only giving vent to his hereditary traits. Near the close of his 'teens, his father said to him: William, you have been an excellent boy. All through these trying years of pioneer life, you have worked uncomplainingly from early till late. I haven't any ready cash for you, but I will give you a 240-acre farm: you can soon marry, settle down and develop it for yourself."

For quite awhile, father," said the lad, "I have been thinking that I ought to have a college education. I am convinced in my own mind that such a preparation for life will be a
better investment than to possess a farm. So if you will pay my way through the University of Michigan, I will gladly let you keep the farm."

The father meditated; then he responded; "I think you are right, William; and while it may be somewhat of a hardship for us to get along without you, you may go.

In June, 1861, this big, brawny country lad from the "banks of the Wabash," stepped out of his chosen college with his Bachelor of Arts diploma under his arm-a finished product ready and willing for the struggle of a professional career. His Alma Mater, in 1864, granted him his Master's degree, and in 1867 conferred upon him his LL. B., and in 1902 his LL. D.

Like thousands of others born in the 30's and early 40's, young Beadle had his life's work broken into by that awful struggle for the preservation of the union-the Civil War. Only one month after leaving college, he responded to his country's call and was commissioned a first lieutenant by Abraham Lincoln with whom he later formed an intimate personal acquaintance and whose remains he accompanied across the country, as one of the guard of honor, after the president's untimely assassination by Booth.

He was later commissioned captain of company A, thirty-first Indiana volunteers, and finally promoted to lieutenant-colonel, First Michigan sharp shooters. For "gallant and meritorious conduct in action," Lincoln made him a colonel by brevet, and later brevetted him a brigadier-general. His military record is without a blemish. On the other hand it abounds with acts of conspicuous daring and leadership, unsurpassed by any man of equal rank in the entire service.

After the war General Beadle began the practice of law at Evansville, Indiana, in 1867. Finding the field largely occupied by older attorneys and not offering to him the advantages desired, he removed the next year to Boscobel, Wisconsin, where he practiced successfully for nearly two years.

While in college Dr. Beadle had specialized in civil engineering. When, after the close of the war, the tide of migration moved westward with a spasm, it became necessary to have the Dakota territory surveyed. Many politicians sought the appointment of surveyor-general for the district; but that uncompromising soldier, General Ulysses S. Grant, who had already, ascended to the presidency of the nation, remained firm in his abiding conviction that where circumstances were equal, a soldier is entitled to preference, and appointed General Wm. H. H. Beadle to the position, in 1869.

Accordingly, he and his family removed to Yankton, the territorial capital, and he at once undertook the task before him. It gave to him the opportunity of a life time. He equaled the opportunity. In 1876 he wrote the "Codes of Dakota;" was elected the next year to the territorial legislature, and secured their adoption.

His surveying work having been completed, a comprehensive code - the product of his own brain and pen - having been enacted, the territorial governor appointed him territorial superintendent of public instruction, in 1879. He held this position until 1885. When Dakota was divided and the state was admitted to the union in 1889, General Beadle was, without knowledge or effort on his part, appointed president of the state normal school at Madison, South Dakota, the oldest nomal in the state. This position he held for sixteen consecutive years, until advanced age forced him to diminish his broader field of duties to a younger man, Dr. John W. Heston, while he, in turn, confined himself to the chair of history.

During these eventful years, Dr. Beadle prepared and left to us a lasting heritage, not only his "Codes of Dakota," but three other volumes: "Life in Utah," "Geography, History and Resources of Dakota," and the "Natural Method of Teaching Geography." But by far his greatest service to the people of the state at large was his foresight, statesmanship and perseverance, displayed in the preservation of our school lands - the sixteenth and thirty-sixth sections of each township.

Having watched similar lands gobbled up for mere nothing by land sharks in other states, Beadle resolved that if it lay within his power, their acts should not be repeated in South Dakota. Accordingly he wrote that masterful section of our state constitution which provides that none of this land shall ever be sold for less than $10 per acre, and which has since been embodied almost verbatim in the constitutions of seven other new states. Thomas
Jefferson had the basic principle of this matter in mind when he drafted that immortal "Ordinance of 1787," for the government of the "Northwest Territory," and inserted in it these words:

"Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means for education shall forever be encouraged."

Our old geographies gave Dakota as a land of barren waste. Beadle was twitted for holding the value of the American desert at $10 per acre. But during his surveyorship and his territorial superintendency he has seen it in detail as no other man ever had, or perhaps ever will. He went on horseback and on foot from Yankton to Bismarck and from Sioux Falls to Deadwood; met the settlers face to face, called public meetings and addressed them in sod houses; urged them to elect men to the constitutional convention who would sustain and fight for his school land provision in it; and when the crucial hour arrived, Beadle won! All hail! Grand Old Man of the Dakotas! We will kiss the feet of your marble statue long after your remains lie silent in the dust!

Beadle's father was at one time sheriff of Parke county, Indiana. Young Beadle occasionally acted as bailiff. Many prominent western lawyers tried cases in that court. The lad became personally acquainted with them. Among this class of men was Ben Harrison, afterwards president of the United States. When the school land feature of the proposed state constitution for South Dakota was being assailed by those who sought to profit by having these lands put in at a much lower value, General Beadle made a trip to Washington, D. C., and held a conversation with his boyhood friend, General Harrison, who was then a member of the United States senate. This conversation and the facts which it disclosed to General Harrison, gave rise to the latter's eloquent speech in the senate in favor of the "omnibus bill," which gave to us our statehood.

A few years since, the state teachers' association passed a resolution to erect a marble bust of General Beadle, life size, in our new state capitol - the funds for the same to be contributed in pennies or nickels or dimes by the school children of the state. So generous was the response that a fund far in advance of what was needed was hastily contributed. A South Dakota sculptor, Mr. Webster, of Sioux Falls, (now deceased), prepared the statue; and during the 1911 session of the association, in the presence of the teachers of the state, and hundreds of other admiring friends, of state dignitaries and of the man whose likeness it reveals, it was unveiled amid imposing ceremonies by the General's life- long friend and admirer, Prof. George M. Smith, of our state university at Vermillion. Smith's dedicatory address was a gem of classic beauty and surpassed in soul-sweetness all previous efforts of his life.

Today, as a journeyman enters upon the main floor of this beautiful edifice - our state capitol - the first thing his eyes behold id the illuminated stone image of the man who "saved our school lands," standing imposingly in an alcove of the rotunda, speaking to him in silent language a lesson that penetrates the soul.

Despite the rapid increase in the school children of the state, the increase in the interest and rental income from the sale and leasing of our school lands continues to increase proportionately, so that today we still draw upon this fund to maintain our schools, at the rate of $4.50 per child. Indeed, the semi-annual amount apportioned to the various counties of the state on June 15, this year, amounted to $361,524. General Beadle's $10 per acre scheme has long since been vindicated, for in March of this year when the last sale of these lands was held, some of it, in Codington county, brought $150 per acre, or fifteen times the minimum value placed upon it in the constitution. The entire amount realized to date from the sale of these lands is approximately ten million dollars, and when they are finally all disposed of the amount will approximate one hundred and twenty-five millions. This amount, if loaned at the minimum rate of 6 per cent, will Produce $7,500,000 per annum, for the maintenance of our schools, or it will, in other words, make them self-supporting.

Correlated to the question of General Beadle's statue in our capitol, is the laying of the corner stone of that magnificent structure, in 1909, by General Beadle himself. Apologetically, we quote from a former article of our own bearing upon it:

"As the curtain rises and reveals our territorial and state history, the writer conscientiously believes that there has never been enacted within our state a scene so tremendously imposing, so irresistibly inspiring, as the one recently enacted at Pierre, of this grand old warrior of the 60's -this educator of a half century - strong, masculine, seventy-one years of age, still in possession of his wonderful mental faculties and of his powerful basso voice that rang out above the din of battle during our civil strife and commanded battalion after battalion of bleeding men to rush forward to the firing line again and again for the preservation of our common country-standing on the base of the first story of our new capitol building; drenched in perspiration, with uplifted hands and a buoyant soul, delivering in tones sufficiently audible to be heard several blocks away, his masterful dedicatory address which will be read and re-read, ages hence, with increasing delight by generations yet unborn."

General Beadle is a Thirty-third degree Scottish Rite Mason. He was married soon after the close of the Civil War to Ellen S. Chapman, a descendant of Mose Rich, a distinguished soldier of the Revolutionary War. Their only child, a daughter, is married and lives in California. Mrs. Beadle died in 1897, and left the General to spend his declining years in solitude.